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Saturday, 10 June, 2000, 18:51 GMT 19:51 UK
Blair pays tribute to Assad
Syrian President Hafez Assad
Syrian President Hafez Assad had heart problems
Prime Minister Tony Blair has paid tribute to Syrian President Hafez Assad, who died on Saturday, aged 69.

Mr Blair praised Mr Assad's contribution to the Middle East peace process and said he hoped his death would "redouble" efforts in the region to find lasting peace.



Hafez Assad was a figure of stability in the Middle East

Tony Blair
Downing Street said Mr Blair had expressed his condolences to President Assad's family and to the Syrian people on the "sad occasion" of his death.

The death was announced on Syrian television. Members of the Syrian parliament were visibly distraught when they were informed.

In a statement issued by No 10, Mr Blair said: "Hafez Assad was a figure of stability in the Middle East and much respected in the Arab world and beyond.

'Crucial player'

"Although I never had a chance to meet him, we regularly exchanged messages about the Middle East peace process in which he was a crucial player.

"He will be badly missed."

He added: "The best testimony to President Assad's memory would be for all involved to redouble their efforts to bring a just and lasting peace to the region and I will do everything I can to support their efforts."


Bashar Assad
Son Bashar will succeed the dead president
Moves are already under way to smooth the succession for the late president's designated heir, his son Bashar al-Assad.

Parliament has amended the constitution to remove an age restriction that would have prevented the 34-year-old Bashar from succeeding.

Mr Assad had been suffering from heart problems and diabetes for some time.

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See also:

10 Jun 00 | Middle East
Syria's President Assad dies
10 Jun 00 | Middle East
Obituary: Syria's shrewd master
10 Jun 00 | Middle East
Mid-East reacts to Assad's death
23 Jul 99 | Middle East
President Assad: Master tactician
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